I didn't fancy Kenny's offer of 6:30 start for a slow 14 miler so arranged to meet Simon at 7:00 outside the Amble Inn for something a bit shorter and quicker. Niall and David had already sent in their excuses so it was down to guest runner Lee to make up the numbers.
My plan was to take the guys up to Sauncy Wood and then across the top following tacks, trails and roads towards Luton Airport. Depending on how we felt we could then either drop down Copt Hall Rd or continue on past Sommeries Castle, round the runway onto Airport Way and drop down to the Lower Luton Rd to pick-up the footpath home.
Despite clear skies and an almost full moon it was darker than expected when we set off. I was already having second thoughts about the wisdom of the route when the first section off-road, cutting across from Common Lane to Bower Heath Lane, confirmed my worst fears. It was suicidally dark: underfoot was frozen and slippy while low hanging branches were all but invisible. But working on the theory silence implies approval we pushed on.
However, it turned out this was but a taster for the blind running to come. One of my favourite footpaths, and as it turns out one of Simon's too, runs from Little Cutts Farm (about 2,5 miles in) to Farr's Lane. It's a great trail but is heavily wooded and tends to get very muddy. Simon accelerated away in his trial shoes, I tried and failed to keep up while Lee followed behind. We got to the end in once piece - just. It was exhilarating in a "that was a stupid thing to do" sort of way.
From there we pushed on past Chiltern Green and ever closer to the aeroplanes whisking people off to sun drenched beaches (or Poland depending on the flight).
Despite Simon and Lee having never seen the wonder of Sommeries Castle the call was to head left down Copt Hall Road and back towards the Lower Luton Rd.
From there we took the Upper Lea Valley Walk/Swan Walk back to Harpenden, turning right onto Westfield Road for a final uphill blast. As before Simon stormed away. I was OK. Lee, however, was by now paying the price of a three-week lay-off and despite in normal conditions being the stronger runner was unable to keep up with me (this time). I doubt this will be the case at the Fred Hughes 10 in a few weeks time.